More MS news articles for Dec 2001

A pleasant crusader despite personal pain

The Express-Times

When residents, developers and visitors push past the clear glass doors of Bethlehem Township’s municipal building, they’re faced with three options: Permits, Finance or Information.

Those who approach window No. 3 are greeted by Vicki Garis’ smiling face.

She answers their questions, offers friendly chit-chat and sends them on their way.

Few visitors spend enough time with Garis to learn that she is one tough lady.

"I don’t give up too easy," Garis said during a lunch break last week.

The Phillipsburg native who now lives in Bath usually spends a half-hour each day walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike.

After sitting all morning, the light exercise loosens her stiff leg muscles - a symptom of the multiple sclerosis that has hindered her active lifestyle. She used to wake up at 4 o’clock every morning to exercise before work.

A disease associated with partial or complete paralysis and muscular tremors, MS is typically accompanied by patches of hardened tissue in the brain or spinal cord.

"It’s a big transition. But you learn to adjust. I’m so grateful to wake up every morning," Garis said.

But on one morning a few years ago, opening her eyes was a terrifying experience.

"I looked out the window and everything was dark," Garis said.

She had no idea that losing the ability to see color in her left eye was a sign of MS.

Gradual loss of leg strength and countless tests led to a diagnosis of the incurable disease.

Garis, 50, also suffers from glaucoma and diabetes, which she treats with two shots daily. Her fiance, Jay Nicholas, administers the shots as well as a weekly injection that stops the progression of MS.

About 10 years ago, Garis met Nicholas at a singles’ dance at the old George Washington Motor Lodge at Route 22 and MacArthur Road. They have been engaged for five years.

"He’s my strength. He’s just always there for me," Garis said.

She said she is also thankful for her grandchildren, 8-year-old Kimberlee and 5-year-old Zachary.

Despite her disability, Garis has no qualms about going after people who break the law.

"That’s my crusade - to get people out of handicapped spots," Garis said.

The owner of a yellow Ford Grand Marquis parked outside ShopRite picked the wrong day to park in a handicapped space. Garis was watching.

After questioning the man, she called police, who later discovered his license plates had expired. They wouldn’t let him drive the vehicle.

"I see people parked there and I have to make mention of it," she said.

Garis’ determined, outgoing personality allowed her to enjoy years of constant moving that defines a military marriage. She lived in Oklahoma, Texas, Kentucky and other states, as well as eight years in Germany.

"It’s such an experience. To me it was very exciting," Garis said.

She had little trouble adjusting to the international culture and vacationed in exotic European countries for the price of a $14 train ticket.

"I would go shopping and (my ex-husband) would play golf," Garis said of their weekend jaunts to Italy.

These days her favorite vacations are decidedly less exotic day trips to Atlantic City.

Although the imposing casino high-rises look more threatening to her after Sept. 11’s attacks, she spent her most recent birthday in the resort city.

Fellow township employees celebrated her birthday with gifts, including a colorful holiday vest she sported last week.

A township employee for seven years, Garis has worked in almost every department, including tax collection, sewer, public works, police, finance, construction and planning.

Restructuring in the planning and zoning departments recently moved her to the information desk, but Garis said she doesn’t mind the change.

Although her space in planning was much larger, Garis’ Smokey Robinson screen saver is one of the touches that makes the small reception area tolerable.

"I like working around people, so every department is nice for me," Garis said, just as yet another visitor approached the information desk for her help.

© 2001 PennLive.